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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A group of Winston-Salem college students are banding together to try and free a man who has spent close to 20 years in prison, serving time for a sentence he maintains to this day he did not commit.

According to activists, the evidence favors Kalvin Michael Smith but he can’t get a retrial or the courts to throw out the case and for that they blame State Attorney General Roy Cooper.

“Cooper! Do the right thing,” the students shouted as the marched through the Winston-Salem State University campus Thursday afternoon.

The students came from the campuses of Wake Forest University, Salem College and WSSU. Student leaders said the time has come for justice.

Activists believe there is not enough evidence to support Smith’s incarceration for the brutal beating of Jill Marker in 1995 at the Silk Plant Forest floral shop. In 2013, a federal court rejected Smith’s plea to get a new trial.

The students feel Smith’s conviction speaks to the prejudice and bias in the criminal justice system. They held a rally Thursday night because student leaders like Jaylon Hervin believe it will take public pressure to force action.

“We’re holding the rally to prove his innocence for one but also to prove we have people out in the community that support him,” said Hervin. “We wanted it to show moral support and that it’s one issue that we are ready to go to war for.”

Students are hoping Smith can be exonerated of the crime and set free immediately.

Another grassroots group that’s been working for 10 years with the same goal in mind is also critical of Cooper’s role in resisting a new trial or challenges to the courts’ decisions.

“Since 2008, Roy Cooper has been responsible for defeating every effort to have every court understand the facts of the case and have it resolved,” said Jet Hollander, the co-chair of the Silk Plant Forest Truth Committee

Smith is only a few years away from being released from prison after being sentenced to 29 years but Hollander and those behind the rally believe he doesn’t need to spend one more day in prison.

“Roy Cooper could resolve the case tomorrow by the way that all wrongful convictions are normally resolved,” said Hollander. “That is to join with Kalvin Smith’s attorneys and go to the court, petition to vacate the conviction — that’s what he should do.”